Voting Rights Act renewal reviewed with skepticism

By Ann Jacob, Staff Writer

The Rosa Parks statue was revealed in Washington last Wednesday. Across the street, protestors uphold the rights she fought for as provisions in the Voting Act requiring cities and towns with a history of prejudice to submit changes in voting laws to the Justice Department for approval are debated in the Supreme Court./PHOTO VIA U.S. Government Work.

Last Wednesday, as the statue of Rosa Parks was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol building, people gathered across the street in front of the Supreme Court, to protest for the rights Parks vehemently fought for and are currently being debated in the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder.

According to a broadcast report by USA Today, at issue are Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which stipulate that areas prone to prejudice and discrimination must request permission from the Justice Department before changing voting laws. While some legislators feel that this protocol is outdated and therefore unnecessary, others feel that these laws still offer valid protections.

Conservative members of the Supreme Court seem to be approaching the renewal of the Act with more skepticism than in past.  Justice Scalia suggested the reauthorizations by Congress could be attributed to what he called the “perpetuation of racial entitlement” (audio: just past 51min; transcript: page 47), and therefore will continue to be reinstated based off of this principle instead of the imminent threat of prejudice and discrimination that inspired the inclusion of the sections to begin with.

Other Conservative justices claim that the stipulations are directed at specific states, and are therefore unconstitutional.

Justice Breyer voiced his opinion on this, “Of course this is aimed at states. What do you think the Civil War was about? Of course it was aimed at treating some states differently than others.”

While it is true that we should not treat some states differently from other states, what I think these Supreme Court Justices fail to remember is our shared troubling history with voting. Do we not remember the Mississippi Three during the Freedom Summer? Do we not remember the march to Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge? Do we not remember the Ku Klux Klan and the discrimination of poll taxes and literacy tests?

While the picture of voting rights and voting in America is not as divisive and dangerous as it used to be, we should not forget the troubles of our recent past. Our country has come a long way to give everyone equal rights and equal protection under the law, and still has a way to go. We are on our way to perfecting our Union, but stripping minorities of protections at the poll is not a step in the right direction.

Perhaps the reason many Americans are against these Sections of the Voting Rights Act being repealed is due to the fact that Mississippi, the state from which this Supreme Court case originates from, only formally ratified the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution abolishing slavery in February of this year. This is 148 years after it became the law! I feel that Rev. Al Sharpton best summed up the feelings of protesters when, on the steps on the Supreme Court, he said, “Last year the voter ID laws and the long lines and the ending early voting and the stopping Sunday to the polls showed that Jim Crow’s son James Crow Jr., Esquire is still trying to do what his daddy did, and that’s rob us from the right to vote.”

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